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Essay/Term paper: Things fall apart - by chinua achebe (diverse cultures essay)

Essay, term paper, research paper:  College Essays

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"Things Fall Apart" by Chinua Achebe

a) Describe in detail your impression of Okonkwo's character having read part one of the novel.

b) What is Okonkwo's response to the arrival of the white man, and how does he cope with the changes that come about under the influence of a different culture.

c) Describe your own reaction to Okonkwo's actions at the close of the novel.

a) Okonkwo is a senior member of the Ibo tribe in Nigeria at the end of the last century. He is an extremely complex character, and in my opinion has two very different sides to his personality.

On one hand, Okonkwo is seen as a powerful, respected man, who is well known throughout his home village of Umuofia and beyond. He is a brave fearless warrior, who as a young man had brought great honour to his village by beating Amalinze, and who for seven years had not been beaten "from Umuofia to Mbaino". He is not a man to shy away from conflict or confrontation. He is not a particularly intelligent man, but a man of action, who is more likely to settle an argument through violence than negotiation. He has an impulsive, explosive nature which can often land him in trouble. By nature, he is energetic and hardworking, and has no patience with men that are idle. He is a pillar of the community, and is looked up to by the majority of his clan members for his success and prosperity in life.

However, beyond this manly display of strength and fortitude lies a man whose life is dominated by fear, a fear of being considered a failure. The main contribution to this fear is his father Unoka. When talking about Okonkwo, it is hard for Unoka's name not to come up, as he has been such a great influence and contribution to his personality, and the way in which he chooses to live his life.

Throughout his life, Unoka had been a lazy, incompetent man, who was regarded as a failure by the majority of his fellow clan members. Unlike Okonkwo, he was a very peaceful, merry man who disliked war and violence. He was also a very emotional man, with a sensitive and reflective nature. When he died, he died having taken no title, and was heavily in debt. Therefore, Okonkwo strives to stamp out any character traits that he sees in himself that remind him of his father. In fact, he tries to be the complete opposite of his father in every single way. Also, due to his father's unsuccessfulness in life, Okonkwo was not born with the head start in life that so many other young men had. No one could possibly say that Okonkwo was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, as from an early age he was already fending for himself, and all the great things that he achieved were due to his own merit and perseverance.

In some ways this was a good thing, as it made Okonkwo into the independent, strong headed man that he is. Nevertheless, while Unoka was far from perfect, he also had some good points, such as his gentleness, and his kindness. However, Okonkwo saw every aspect of his father's character as undesirable, whatever it may have been.

This leads people to believe that he is a cruel, harsh man, but in reality Okonkwo has a very protective, loving side to his personality. However, this is the side he prefers to keep hidden, for fear that people may compare him to his dead father, and he may be considered a failure. This would be an enormous tragedy according to Okonkwo, as he cares a lot about what other people think of him, and in every situation he is faced with, he tries hard to react in a way that people would consider to be brave and manly.

Okonkwo treats his children in the same harsh manner that he treats everyone else, though it is apparent that he cares for them very much. However, because he so badly wants them to be successful and prosperous in life, he tends to take the wrong approach, and is very rude and aggressive towards them. He also has a tendency to blow things out of proportion, and overreact to the tiniest mistake or mishap. He is more critical of his sons than his daughter, as he is extremely sexist, and has very strong opinions as to how a man should behave. He expects them to all grow up to be brave fearless warriors, rather like himself. He also tends to compare himself to his sons too much, which is not entirely fair, as he lived in such different circumstances from them, and had to adapt to a much harder way of life. This results in his children not having a very good relationship with him. In fact, they are quite terrified of him, and it does not require much imagination to see why.

His relationships with his wives are not any better, as he has very sexist ideas as to how relationships between husband and wife should be. He believes them to be the inferiors of men, and acts in a very impatient and rude manner towards them, treating them with no respect whatsoever. Nevertheless, I am sure that he cares for them in his own way, but being Okonkwo, does not have a very good way of expressing it.

However, it is not entirely Okonkwo's fault that he thinks in this way, as the society in which he lives imposes such narrow minded views as to how a woman should behave towards and be treated like by her husband, so he sees the way in which he treats his wives as commonplace, and sees nothing wrong with it.

Regarding the laws and religions of his clan, Okonkwo tends to adopt the views of the majority, and has an inclination to follow them blindly, without much thought. He is completely against individuality and new ideas, and believes very strongly in the old way of going about things. He is not one to ponder upon things, and believes that to question the laws of his ancestors would be a great abomination. He accepts the laws and religion of the clan without question, and is completely happy to live his life in accordance to them.

In spite of this, due to his impetuosity, he can sometimes accidentally go against the law of the clan, or react in a way that sets him in a bad light in their eyes. Nevertheless, it is always a spur of the moment thing, and he always regrets it afterwards. However, by then it is sometimes too late to make amends, and he has to face up to the consequences of his actions.

b) Even before white men began to show up in Umuofia and its surrounding villages, Okonkwo has already heard rumours of men who were "as white as chalk, and had no toes". At the time this idea was semi legendary and they jokingly compared them to Adami a well known leper.

It was only when Okonkwo heard from his friend Obierika in his second year of exile that their neighbouring town, Abame had been totally wiped out by the white men and some of their African converts, that he began to take the idea seriously.

Abame had been wiped out because they had killed the first missionary that was sent by the white men to survey the land, because their oracle had predicted that the white man would break up their clan, and spread destruction. It was also predicted that more white men were on their way.

On hearing the news, Okonkwo"s response was not one of fear or apprehension, he blamed their fate on the people of Abame for not being armed at all times since the prior warning of danger.

Even after they arrived in Mbanta to preach about their God and religion, Okonkwo only stayed to listen in the hope that it would come to driving the men out, or whipping them. He believed, that like him, people would regard them as foolish, and not listen much to what they had to say. Later on however, the Christian Church began to win over converts, and one of them, in his zeal killed the sacred python, the most revered animal in Mbanta and all the surrounding clans. Naturally, Okonkwo is very upset by this abomination, and wants to see them treated very harshly,

"Let us not reason like cowards," said Okonkwo. "If a man comes into my hut and defæcates on the floor, what do I do? Do I shut my eyes? No! I take a stick and break his head. That is what a man does. These people are daily pouring filth over us, and Okeke says we should pretend not to see."

Later on Okonkwo finds out from one of his cousins that his son Nwoye had been attending Christian meetings. In my opinion, on first hearing of this news, Okonkwo goes into a state of shock, and he is uncertain of what to do, which is not characteristic of him, "The women began to talk excitedly, but Okonkwo sat unmoved." After Nwoye returns from the meeting, he went into the Obi to salute his father, but he did not reply. Then, when Nwoye turned around to walk away, Okonkwo suddenly returned to his old self, and sprang to his feet, gripped Nwoye by the neck, and demanded to know where he had been. When Nwoye failed to answer, Okonkwo hit him savagely with a stick. It is only when his uncle shouted out to him to let Nwoye go, that he released the boy. In my opinion, Okonkwo is a lot more hurt and disappointed then he likes to admit, and tries to tell himself that Nwoye isn"t worth it. His first thought was to "take up his matchet, go to the church, and wipe out the vile and corrupt gang."

Later on, he became thoughtful, and depressed, and contemplated what it would be like if when he dies, all his children do the same as Nwoye, and he sees himself and all his ancestors crowding around their ancestral shrine, and there being no one there to worship them, while his children instead worship the white man"s god.

Soon after this, Okonkwo"s seven years of exile ended, and he was allowed to return to his father land, Umuofia. It was only then that he realised what a great hold the white men and their followers had over their way of life.

In Mbanta, he had not realised this, even though they had all heard stories of the white man building a place of judgement in Umuofia, and hanging people who failed to abide by their laws. However, no-one had really taken these stories very seriously, and thought it would be very easy to drive them out of the clan if they became more bothersome. As he found out from his friend, Obierika on returning to Umuofia, the church had succeeded in gaining more converts, and now it was not only the outcasts of society who joined, but sometimes they lost even a worthy man to the Christians.

On top of that they had also brought with them a government system, and true to the stories told in Mbanta, men who did not conform were either imprisoned, or hanged.

Okonkwo was greatly saddened and depressed when he heard of these happenings, and failed to comprehend why the war like people he once knew had succumbed to the laws and customs of the white men. He was very disappointed in them, and couldn"t understand why they had "lost the power to fight" He believed the only option was to fight the men, and drive them out of their land. His talk with Obierika left him silent, and pensive, and the two men sat in silence for a long time after.

Soon after this, a Christian man of the name of Enoch, committed one of the greatest crimes a man could commit, by unmasking an egwugwu in public. In a meeting of all the masked Egwugwu of Umuofia, Okonkwo said adamantly that they should kill the missionary, and drive out the Christians. While they disagreed to take it that far, they did, in Okonkwo"s opinion, agree to do something tangible.

After this had been accomplished, Okonkwo felt a lot happier than he had in a long time, and his faith in the clan was restored. He felt it was alike "the good old days again, when a warrior was a warrior."

However, soon after, the leaders of Umuofia (of whom Okonkwo is one) were invited to the headquarters of the District Commissioner, and while they were there, having a "friendly" discussion, they were handcuffed, and imprisoned until a ransom was paid for their release.

During this time they were treated very badly by the court messengers, and were jeered at, ridiculed and beaten. Naturally, Okonkwo, being the proud, dignified, man that he is, was absolutely degraded and humiliated, and has probably never been treated in this way before in his life. When he is finally released, he is set on revenge, and now the bitterness he feels is mingled with a "kind of child like excitement."

It did not matter to him whether or not the clan would decide to go to war. He is adamant, that some one is going to pay for the treatment he received in the white man"s court, and if the clan, "choose to be cowards, he would go out and avenge himself." He then reminisces about past wars, and tells himself that "worthy men are no more."

The next day a huge crowd gathered in the market place of Umuofia, to contemplate what would be done regarding the Christian Missionaries and their followers. The meeting was going well until five court messengers turned up, and tried to get the meeting to stop. Okonkwo recognising the head messenger, who made his life such a misery in his time of imprisonment, was overcome with fury, and decapitated him with two quick descents of his matchet.

It is at this point that he realised that Umuofia would never go to war, he realised this because they had allowed the remaining messengers to escape. Instead of breaking into action, they had broken out into turmoil. He has now, in my opinion given up all hope for the people of Umuofia to return to the brave, worthy men they once were. He feels that he is totally alone, and sees there is no point going on any more now that the people he once knew and loved have turned soft, like women. He yields to despair, and decides to end his life.

c) My first reaction when I found out that Okonkwo had decided to end his own life was one of great shock and disbelief. I had not even contemplated that such a thing could occur, and even until the last minute, I still did not succeed in guessing what had happened. I think it was an enormous tragedy that such a great man should die in such a pitiful way, and I was greatly disappointed that he had not chosen some other course of action. I did not think it could have ever been possible for such a strong minded, ambitious man, to even contemplate ending it all, and I came to the conclusion that he must have yielded to great despair, in order to take matters so far.

Nevertheless, Okonkwo had always been a man to over react, even to the smallest problem, and when faced with such a huge one, he must have felt as if their was nothing left to live for.

However, when you gain a greater insight into the matter, the reason why he decided to end his existence becomes more apparent. I do not think he decided to kill himself because he feared the consequences of his actions, but because he could not cope with the irreversible changes that had happened to the people of Umuofia during his absence. He felt that all the characteristics that had once been treasured in his society had been forgotten, and that his people had lost the will to fight. They were no longer the brave, manly men he remembered them to be, and he grieved for the war like men he had once known who had become "soft like women."

Okonkwo reacted to the changes like a fish out of water, and eventually felt that he could no longer cope with life. It was as if he had fallen into a pit of quicksand, and was sinking lower and lower until he was completely submerged


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